For over 30 years, Vasanth Kannabiran (born 1939) has been closely involved with questions of armed militancy, civil liberties, and the meaning of peace for women in her native state of Andhra Pradesh. She is among the first women in the country to move into feminist activism through the Stree Shakti Sangathana. Ten years ago, she set up a radical women's collective in Andhra Pradesh called Asmita, which brings diverse groups of women into networks addressing issues spanning conflict, peace, survival, women's rights, and secularism.
As a child, Vasanth Kannabiran was taught to question and assert herself, and it is a habit that has stayed. Born into a family of first-generation communist leaders in Andhra Pradesh, Vasanth secured a masters in English literature from the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages in Hyderabad, the state capital, and went on to teach English at a woman's college from 1961 to 1985. Vasanth, a lawyer and leading civil and democratic rights activist, has worked alongside her husband since the mid-1970s for the rights of political dissidents. When she began work on human rights, the emergency had just been declared, and all civil liberties stood suspended. Vasanth sheltered underground activists. She also became a member of one of the earliest women's collectives in India, Stree Shakti Sangathana, and eventually moved from college teaching to development work. Ten years ago, she set up a radical women's collective in Andhra Pradesh called Asmita, which brings diverse groups of women into networks that address issues spanning conflict, peace, survival, women's rights, and secularism. Vasanth is also a founder-member of Hyderabad Ekta, the first anticommunal front in Hyderabad, which began its work amid deepening communal polarization. She has played an invaluable role in initiating, sustaining, and supporting campaigns for a democratic order by offering her services, shelter, critiques, resources, advocacy efforts, and creative energies. What is unique about her is her capacity to train leaders and build alliances. She has been able to straddle the local and the international, addressing questions of inequality, discrimination, and diversity in every sphere of her work.
National Alliance for Women (NAW)